Newly discovered premiere of Debussy children’s ballet to be performed in St Andrews

Tuesday 6 February 2018

The children’s ballet ‘La Boîte a Joujoux’, by world-renowned composer Claude Debussy, will be performed in St Andrews to mark the centenary of World War I, thanks to researchers from the University of St Andrews, The Courtauld Institute and The Virginia Woolf & Music Project.

Academics from the University’s School of English, in collaboration with performers from The Virginia Woolf & Music Project, will host a series of concerts, public talks and a marionette presentation on Thursday 8 and Friday 9 February, inspired by a series of World War I pacifist concerts.

The original 1915 London premiere of Debussy’s children’s ballet, recently discovered by researchers at The Courtauld Institute, was performed as part of a series of ‘pacifist concerts’ organised by members of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, which included Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell. The pacifist concerts were formed in an effort to raise money for Belgian refugees of The Great War.

Over 200 school children from Fife primary schools will attend the matinee concert performance of Debussy’s children’s ballet ‘La Boîte a Joujoux’ (‘The Toy Box’) on Friday 9 February. Prior to the concert there will be a marionette demonstration and introduction to the concert by the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre. Public talks and an evening concert will take place at The Byre Theatre, St Andrews, on 8 February from 5.30pm.

debussy-marionette-mainbody-2Project Director and pianist Lana Bode at The Virginia Woolf & Music Project said: “I’m really passionate about presenting undervalued women’s art of incredible quality, so it’s been hugely exciting to prepare a programme featuring music by Germaine Tailleferre and Nadia Boulanger. The recent discovery that one of Debussy’s latest works was premiered by the Omega Workshops, led by female artists Winifred Gill and Vanessa Bell, is absolutely astonishing! It’s humbling to have the opportunity to present this amusing work of children’s art in the spirit in which it was first presented more than 100 years ago.”

Dr Emma Sutton, Senior Lecturer from the School of English, added: “It’s been fascinating to learn about the pacifist concerts organised by the Omega Workshops during the First World War. Music’s importance to members of the Omega Workshops and the Bloomsbury Group has often been overlooked but the premiere of Debussy’s children’s ballet ‘The Toy Box’ in 1915 by the Omega Workshops is exciting evidence of music’s importance to their art and politics. Their commitment to internationalism, pacifism, and art by and for children is inspiring.”

Follow-up marionette activities linked to the Curriculum for Excellence are in development with schools around the topics of the anniversary of World War I, including pacifism, refugee crises, and children’s artistic expression.


Top: Promotional image: Andre Helle – his children’s book ‘The Toy Box’ (‘La Boîte a Joujoux’) inspired Debussy to write the ballet; these images will be shown during the concert

Bottom: Claude Debussy

Notes to news editors/interview requests

Dr Emma Sutton and Project Director and pianist Lana Bode are available for interview on 8 and 9 February via the Communications Office – contacts below.  

St Andrews has an in-house ISDN line for radio and a Globelynx camera for TV interviews. To arrange an interview please contact the Communications Office in the first instance.

Notes to picture/online editor

Photographs/video clips are available via

Images of Winifred Gill, artist at the Omega Workshops and Manager of Omega Workshops in 1915 at time of Debussy premiere; designer of pacifist toys and caricatures for children:

Event details

Thursday 8 February

Public talks and an evening concert at The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.

Public talks: 5.30pm – 7pm Studio theatre

The free talks focus on Debussy, the Omega Workshop and pacifism. Speakers include:

  • Dr Roy Howat, pianist and Debussy expert (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland),
  • Dr Charlotte de Mille (The Courtauld Institute of Art, London),
  • Dr David Evans (School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews).

Boîte a Joujoux Concert: 8 – 9.30pm Main auditorium

Concert performers are the project’s Artistic Director, pianist Lana Bode, and soprano/narrator Jennifer Witton (Royal Shakespeare Company).

Friday 9 February – 10am

Children’s matinee concert and marionette presentation at The Byre Theatre, St Andrews.

Funding is supported by The Hope Scott Trust.

Events will be reprised and extended at 28th International Virginia Woolf Conference, June 2018, at the University of Kent.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office. Contact Christine Tudhope on 01334 467 320/07526 624 243 or [email protected].

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